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The past ten years have been significant — indeed some might say phenomenally good — for the comics industry and the medium as a whole. While our economy collapsed, the Earth got hotter, and general chaos and disaster reigned, comics finally started to crawl out of its red-headed stepchild status. People started acknowledging comics as a legitimate form of art. Librarians and teachers started showing an interest in comics, arguing that it could help generate an interest in reading among children. And lots and lots of really great books came out in a variety of genres and styles. Comics, it could be argued, finally came of age.
When thinking about how to look at the past ten years of comics — and also celebrate our one-year anniversary — we wanted to do something different. Rather than try to list just our favorites or grade them on some aesthetic, subjective scale, we thought we’d look at the comics that mattered, the ones that, for better or for worse, changed the industry, changed how people thought about comics, and changed the way comics were read and bought. Here then, is our list of what we feel to be the 30 most important (or if you prefer, influential) comics of the decade. These aren’t necessarily the best comics of the past ten years — in fact you may find a few clunkers — but rather the comics that, for one reason or another, changed things.
Here’s how we put this thing together: I came up with a basic list that I then threw to the rest of the Robot 6 crowd, who proceeded to suggest other titles and question some of mine. Once we had hashed it out and came up with a final list, we divvied up who would talk about what book. The ranking was pretty much done solely by me, so if you’re upset that comic A got ranked lower than comic B, I’m the guy to yell at.
Because our list got so long, we decided to break this into two parts. The first 15 are after the jump. The second part will appear tomorrow around the same time. Be sure to let at us know about whatever books we omitted in the comments section. And enjoy! Here’s to another decade of great comics.
30. Amazing Spider Man #583 by Zeb Wells, Todd Nauck and Frank D’Armata (Marvel)
In an age where the old “Pow! Zap! Comics aren’t for kids anymore!” headlines are more a rarity than de rigeur, it’s important to remember that the industry we so love and hold warm to our bosom remains just as venal, short-sighted, given to gimmicks and out to make a quick cash grab as they were ten years ago. Why is this so you ask? Because it will pay off in spades. Despite all the great books and all of the street-corner proselytizing, the vast hoi polloi will still be more interested in buying a comic book because of its potential value as a collectible gee-gaw than an inherently pleasurable read. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the most ordered comic of the decade. We’ve come so far. — Chris Mautner
29. The Push Man, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn and Quarterly)
Published when the manga boom was hitting its peak, The Push Man was one of the first manga aimed at a literary audience. The book, edited by comics creator Adrian Tomine, created a new model for manga for adults: It was published as a hardcover, larger than the standard manga format, and flipped so the stories read left-to-right. Unmistakably adult in content as well as form, The Push Man appealed to a new audience, sophisticated readers of graphic novels who were more interested in a book’s literary qualities than its country of origin and who were more likely to pick this book up in spite of its being manga than because of it. — Brigid Alverson
28. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman (Image)
Back in 2003 a black-and-white horror comic debuted from Image Comics, written by an up-and-coming writer named Robert Kirkman and drawn by Tony Moore. The book may not have been on a lot of people’s radar at the time, but it quickly developed a fan following — a rabid fan following. Charles Aldard eventually replaced Moore on art, and the book spent a good part of the decade actually climbing the sales charts — and the trades haven’t done so bad, either. Kirkman went on to work at Marvel, including launching their own line of zombie comics, but in 2008 left to become a partner within Image, joining several of the originals who launched the company in the 1990s. The book has become a blueprint for success in the creator-owned world and ushered in a zombie trend in comics that still lives on today. — JK Parkin
27. Fantastic Four #60-524 by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo (Marvel)
When is a firing not a firing? That’s what happened back in mid-2003, when Bill Jemas decided he wanted to take Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s Fantastic Four run (already a critical and fan favorite at that time) in a different editorial direction. It was not a direction that Waid wanted to go in, but he tried to make it work, but not to Jemas’ satisfaction, so Waid was fired (and Wieringo stepped down in solidarity with him). The hows and whys were debated at that time as evidenced by this Joe Q letter to the public, but Waid’s version of events, as detailed more recently in this AICN April 2009 interview now go seemingly unchallenged. Fan outcry to the creators’ departure was loud and immediate. As described by Jonah Weiland (in a June 18, 2003 article): “On our own Marvel Comics CBR Forum, threads about the firing were extremely active and it got so bad over on Newsarama that it overloaded their current server and pretty much took them off line. The majority of the conversation supported Mark Waid, wishing the firing hadn’t happened, with a great many calling for the heads of Messieurs Jemas and Quesada.”
When the news first hit, Waid still had several more issues scripted for the series before his run ended. Marvel editorial eventually realized the vitriolic public outcry was unlikely to die down in support of Waid and Wieringo. Waid and Wieringo were invited back on the book (Waid never having, in essence, left the series, as events timed out), while Jemas’ creative direction shift was seemingly channeled into the Marvel Knights 4 series (written by unknown newcomer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa). Back in 2003, Joe Quesada’s initial attempt at damage control included the line “I’ve been busy as hell of late and found my life much more enjoyable these last few months that I’ve avoided Internet message boards”. As evidenced by Quesada’s editorial decision to get Waid and Wieringo return, the impact of the Internet was impossible to ignore in this instance. The way things played out, it was also one of the first times where the creators used the Internet to their advantage, garnering support for their case in essence. While it only occurred six years ago, it’s interesting to see certain aspects–consider the announcement of the creators’ return as documented in this September 25, 2003 article, written by Arune Singh, then CBR staff writer (who now works for Marvel). “On Wieringo’s online web diary, colloquially called a ‘blog,’ [emphasis mine] the artist revealed that he and Waid were back on ‘Fantastic Four.'” The Internet’s impact on comics in this past decade took many different forms, this being just one example. — Tim O’Shea
26. Flight Volume 1, edited by Kazu Kibuishi (self-published/Villiard)
It used to be a truism in comics that anthologies don’t sell. The first volume of FLIGHT proved that false by being not only a critical success, but enough of a financial one to give birth to five sequels (so far) and many other, similar projects. It’s doubtful that Indie Spinner Rack’s AWESOME, Image’s POPGUN, 24SEVEN, and OUTLAW TERRITORIES, and Villard’s OUT OF PICTURE and POSTCARDS books (to name several) would’ve happened without FLIGHT’s first proving that it could be done. Even in the superhero world, what was WEDNESDAY COMICS but another high-quality collection of short stories? — Michael May
25. Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season Eight by (Dark Horse)
The seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which ended with the closing of the Hellmouth and the destruction of Sunnydale, ended in 2003, and it wasn’t until 2007 that we got to see the eighth season. And of course, things were a little different — Xander had an eyepatch, the gang now included an army of Slayers and the cast wasn’t in Sunnydale anymore … and oh yeah, it wasn’t on TV, it was in a comic published by Dark Horse.
And while it wasn’t the first time a TV show had been adapted into a comic, or even the first time Buffy and the gang had appeared in comics, it’s remarkable enough for this list because it’s canon, it’s overseen by Buffy creator Joss Whedon and it showed other folks in Hollywood that hey, even if your show gets canceled or just ends or you have trouble dealing with the suits, there’s another medium out there that gives you more control over your creation. There’s a medium where you can continue to tell your stories long after the lights are turned off or the cast has moved on, and where your audience can fall in love with your story all over again. — JK Parkin
24. Megatokyo by Fred Gallagher
Megatokyo was not only a pioneering webcomic, it was one of the first successful attempts by an American creator to replicate the style and pacing of manga, and it has been running continuously since 2000, despite irregular updates and filler arcs. The comic was created by Rodney Caston and Fred Gallagher, but the two split in 2002 and Gallagher has been running the show ever since. Although the full archive remains online, the print editions consistently sell well and several have placed high on the graphic novel charts. Megatokyo is one of the few global manga to be published in Japan; excerpts appeared in the anthology Faust in 2008 and the first volume was published by Kodansha in 2009. — Brigid Alverson
23. 30 Days of Night by Steven Niles and Ben Templesmith (IDW)
Steven Grant recently wrote that “a flood of comics featuring zombies, vampires, werewolves, swamp creatures and Frankenstein analogs have supplanted the superhero as the dominant mainstream figures (in terms of sheer number of titles, if not gross sales).” I don’t know if that’s still true (looking at all the zombie comics still being produced, maybe it is), but it certainly was for most of the past ten years. In thinking about the overall comics industry this decade, I realized that I read a TON of horror comics. And it all started with 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, the three-issue mini-series by then unknown creators Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, published by a new, small publisher named IDW. When Sam Raimi paid a million dollars for the movie rights, the comics industry went nuts.
After that, horror comics were everywhere. Entire publishing companies were created just to jump on the bandwagon. Devil’s Due got its start publishing Army of Darkness, Fangoria magazine entered the comics game, and of course IDW continued to publish heavily in that genre. Dark Horse created a horror imprint and – though Invincible owns some of the credit – a large part of Robert Kirkman’s success at Image is due to The Walking Dead. Even Marvel and DC got involved, dusting off old horror concepts like Ghost Rider and Man-Thing, starting the Marvel Zombies series, putting Frankenstein and Klarion the Witch Boy in Seven Soldiers of Victory, and raising the dead to walk around in Blackest Night. In fact, it’s arguable that much of the darkness and graphic violence in modern superhero comics were influenced by the popularity of horror comics. And it all started with vampires in Alaska. — Michael May
22. Girl Genius by Phil and Kaija Foglio (Studio Foglio)
Girl Genius started as a print comic in 2000, but in 2005 creators Phil and Kaija Foglio switched over to a webcomic format, and what happened next defied everyone’s expectations: Sales of the trade editions soared, although the entire story was available online for free. The Foglios found that the webcomic was building their audience but people still wanted to own the print edition. Girl Genius is well regarded as a creative sci-fi comic with a strong female lead, and it has won numerous awards, including the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. — Brigid Alverson
21. Civil War, by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven (Marvel)
Marvel had test runs with Avengers: Disassembled and House of M, and DC got there first with Infinite Crisis and its lead-ins and tie-ins. But it was Millar & McNiven’s controversial crossover that truly established the line-wide event-comic template that so dominated the superhero genre, and the companies that depend upon it, during the latter half of this decade. In its pages, the fate of the mainstream Marvel Universe was handed to one of superhero comics’ most studiously sensationalistic scribes. (And one with close connections to the decade’s dominant, but very different, writers in the genre: Millar was a former protege of Grant Morrison and a friend and collaborator of Brian Michael Bendis.) The in-story changes he wrought — turning Iron Man into a borderline tyrant and Captain America into an ersatz insurgent, revealing Spider-Man’s secret identity, giving Goliath a cannon-fodder cameo, setting up Cap’s subsequent assassination–set fandom afire and even grabbed some real-world headlines, though some have since been undone. But larger still was Civil War‘s impact on the way event-comic stories were both told and sold. From a storytelling perspective, Millar and McNiven changed company-wide crossovers by basing them on a Cliff’s Notes version of a real-world political issue, in this case “freedom vs. security”; upping the ante for civilian collateral damage; and replacing traditional good guys vs. bad guys conflict with pitting heroes against heroes, or at the very least having each side of the conflict viewed positively by different segments of the public. And on the publishing end, Civil War permitted shipping delays in order to preserve a consistent creative team; expanded its story into countless tie-in story arcs, miniseries, and one-shots; made its storyline the setting for virtually the entire line; and served as the anchor for a chain of line-wide events that has yet to be broken. — Sean T. Collins
20. Achewood by Chris Onstad (self-published/Dark Horse)
The Comics Journal message board circa 2001 was the most ornery and elitist destination on the entire comics Internet (such as it was at the time). That this of all places was where Chris Onstad’s funny-animal webcomic opus Achewood broke through to much of the comics world says a lot about its sparkling intelligence, immaculate execution, and irresistible appeal: It was the webcomic that made webcomics safe for the smart set. Combining a minimalist, digitally-drawn line, absurdly well-rounded and well-roundedly absurd characters, and a relentless drive to push the boundaries of the traditional gag strip beyond the fourth-panel-punchline format with everything from epic months-long storylines to ancillary in-world blogs and cookbooks “written” by the characters, Achewood is one of the most remarkable webcomics success stories in a decade full of them. To this day, the strip remains the comic most likely to be namedropped after the phrase “The only webcomic I read is…” And when critics debate which is the great comic strip of our time, chances are that for the first time, their selection won’t reside in the funny pages, but at www.achewood.com. — Sean T. Collins
19. Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco (Fantagraphics)
Safe Area Gorazde didn’t just break Sacco out of the alt-comix ghetto. It was one of those early books of the 00s that — along with Blankets and Jimmy Corrigan — showed the potential of the medium to those who had previously dismissed it. It’s gritty subject matter — the war in former Yugoslavia and its affect on a small town — drew attention and praise from those outside the comics industry who had the influence and respect to draw the interest of more casual readers. What’s more, it showed that comics could handle not only tough subject matters, but deal with timely, true-life subjects in a hard-hitting, journalistic fashion. Just about every nonfiction book that’s come down the pike since then, from the 9/11 book and Hill and Wang’s subsequent graphic novel line to Michael Crowley and Dan Goldman’s recent coverage of the ’08 campaign, owes it a debt of gratitude. — Chris Mautner
18. New X-Men, by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Ethan Van Sciver, et. al. (Marvel)
The yin to Bendis and Daredevil‘s yang. Grant Morrison, the 2000s’ other bald-headed, hugely influential, mega-selling superhero writer, kicked off the decade as the most established star in the Nu-Marvel firmament. Perhaps for that reason was handed the assignment of reinvigorating Marvel’s once-flagship, then-flagging franchise. Visually, his answer to that challenge echoed that of Bryan Singer’s surprise-smash film adaptation, swapping out the garish spandex of the merry mutants’ ’90s togs for sleek, sophisticated, militaristic black leather courtesy of his frequent (and finest) collaborator, Frank Quitely. Narratively, Morrison jettisoned the sprawling crossovers and screaming histrionics of the preceding decade for an extended love letter to Chris Claremont’s golden years with the title. But it was a purloined letter, hidden in plain sight, using Morrison’s trademark attention to bleeding-edge style and “high weirdness” pseudoscience to disguise such Claremont staples as love triangles, Shi’ar space opera, anti-mutant genocide, Xavier Institute intrigue, alternate futures, reality-warping super-mutants, and, of course, master plans by Magneto. Every bit as much a child of the anything-goes Nu-Marvel era as Daredevil, it nevertheless ended up on the outs with the regime’s leader, Bill Jemas, whose never-wavering preference for streamlined storytelling conflicted with Morrison’s more expansive imagination. And like many of Morrison’s projects, it suffered from inconsistent art provided by swapped-out pencilers, though who was really at fault remains up for debate. But even though Morrison and Marvel proved an imperfect match, everything Morrison did here–the bold reinterpretation of superhero icons, the long-term game plan, the mind-bending mystery, the introduction of new concepts and characters, the love-it-or-hate-it flexibility with continuity, the use of superheroes as a vehicle for his observations and philosophies regarding contemporary culture–would reappear as his template for his subsequent work at DC Comics. There he remains one of superhero comics’ most divisive and best selling writers–and there, thanks to work like All Star Superman, he became the genre’s most acclaimed current practitioner. — Sean T. Collins
17. Bone by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)
Yes, Smith’s seminal all-ages fantasy title was largely serialized in pamphlet form in the 1990s. But it wasn’t until the massive all-in-one collection came out that the series really caught on fire, especially with a certain segment of the reading population that had heretofore been a bit adverse to comics — namely children. That fire quickly turned into a raging inferno when children’s book publisher Scholastic (the folks behind Harry Potter, among other titles) started releasing the series in slim, affordable, colorized editions. With Scholastic’s marketing muscle behind it, Bone and Smith suddenly had access to stores and markets that most comics could only dream about, and thus introduced a whole generation of readers — many of whom had never set foot in a comic book store before and still may never — to the art form. It thus seems fair to say that Bone is directly responsible for the current boom in children’s comics that shows no signs of abating. Its success at Scholastic led to the development of their Graphix line, which now publishes acclaimed work like Good Neighbors and Amulet. A number of cartoonists that have come to the fore in the past 10 years were clearly influenced by Smith’s creation. And just about every children’s publisher in North America has, is, or will be attempting to publish a graphic novel of some sort. All thanks to little Fone Bone and his friends. — Chris Mautner
16. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni)
Of course. But not just because of the fact it was the biggest bonafide sleeper hit of the decade, or because it was one of the first books to be serialized not in pamphlet form but in a graphic novel format, or because it’s one of the few comics being adapted into a film that actually seems to stand a chance at being halfway decent. More than any of that, the Scott Pilgrim series deserves a place on this list because, as I said in my recent interview with Tom Spurgeon, it marks “the dividing line between the new and upcoming generation of cartoonists and the established folks. It’s a demarcation point, a push pin in the time line, same as Zap Comix was in the ’60s and Love and Rockets was in the ’80s.” I really mean that too. I see Pilgrim as the forefront of the new wave of cartoonists like Brandon Graham and Hope Larson — folks whose influences range beyond the traditional “EC/60s Marvel/Undergrounds” time line to incorporate things like manga, anime and video game references into their work. What’s especially impressive about O’Malley’s series is that it’s able to do so with a seeming effortlessness; it never seems forced or arbitrarily shoved in. I think for many new cartoonists, Scott Pilgrim offers a new way of doing comics, and I think we’ve only just begun to see how truly influential this series will become. — Chris Mautner